With the 2014 Football World Cup starting in Brazil, About Manchester takes a look at the region’s connections with the South America Country.
In a word it’s Cotton.Brazil Street and Brazil House opposite Sackville gardens in the city centre hint at the region’s links to the country. The latter, a listed building built in the 1870’s now, as with many of the old cotton warehouses, flats at the top and a bar at the bottom.
Cotton has probably grown in Brazil since pre-historic times, but it was the Portuguese who discovered growing wild there by Magellan in 1519. Europeans were quick to notice the advantages of this indigenous cultivar over linen and silk, which were widely used in Europe at that time.
The cotton plant caught the attention of two priests, Manoel da Nóbrega and José de Anchieta, who recommended to Portugal the establishment of a textile industry.
Brazil’s own spinning and weaving mills were established as far back as 1775 in Minas Geraes, but the machinery was hand operated. Brazil and Argentina had begun exporting cotton to Lancashire by the 1780’s.
Later in an Act passed in 1807 Portugal prohibited the manufacture of cotton cloth in its colony Brazil in order to protect its own mill owners.
Brazilian cotton was particularly suitable for producing muslin. By 1820 Latin America had become a valuable export market for Lancashire cotton goods, Brazil becoming Lancashire’s largest market for printed fabrics.
The American civil war led to a Brazilian cotton boom by the 1860’s. From 165,000 kilos in 1845, over 8 million was being exported into Europe by 1871 with prices doubled. Even after the end of the war, the Manchester Cotton Supply Association, wanting to keep supply strong, lobbied the Brazilian government to bring more and more acreage into cultivation.
After the First World War, Manchester sent a delegation out to Brazil to examine in detail the cotton industry and concluded that the potential for cotton growing outweighed any other country in the world but that Brazil suffered through shortages of labour and said the delegation ” the laxity of those who grew and controlled the cotton industry”.
However cotton planters turned to coffee, rubber and sugar. Cotton exports fluctuated, dropping to an time low in 1932 and most of Brazil’s cotton was used by its own mills and the demand was such that exported cotton had to be reshipped back to Brazil.
In Manchester in 1937, the Brazilian consulate closed, moving to Glasgow, citing slow and diminishing trade between the two as the main reason.
After the Second World War there were more attempts to increase imports from the country into Lancashire but by now the textile industry in the UK was in a steep decline as countries that had formerly provided lucrative markets developed their own mills and Japan captured many former British markets in China and the Far East.This, combined with underinvestment meant that by the end of the 1960’s Manchester’s cotton trade was coming to an end.
Ironically at the same time, Brazil had quadrupled its exports and had become one of the biggest cotton exporters in the world.